This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Monday, June 09, 2008

Imprecation, Vital for Strong and Faithful Perseverance in Grace

Some time ago I posted an entry titled The Propriety of Christians Invoking God's Wrath and Curses upon Evildoers. Imprecations, whether within the Psalter, the Prophets, the New Testament, or elsewhere in Scripture, remain a perennial problem for Christians. This is so, however, because Christians have hearts inadequately beating with God's full passion. Christians are keen to embrace God's love but quick to stand at a distance from God's wrath and anger.

Consequently, Christians are enormously impatient with other Christians who manifest wrath, anger, indignation, or contempt toward evil but especially toward evildoers. The old addage--"Hate the sin; love the sinner"--rules the day, as though this addage were true of God, in every sense, also, despite
Psalm 5:5-6, " The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors." Here is the ironic, if not sardonic, reality. Christians who are so terribly impatient with other Christians who manifest godly indignation and contempt toward evildoers actually exhibit sinful hatred for those whom they wrongly feel are sinful when they show contempt for real evildoers.

I have experienced this numerous times, particularly when I have been subjected to shocking hatred and spiteful meanness by leaders in high places, behavior borne out of their own astonishing personal insecurity and fear of losing their power and sway over those under their authority. Because they have foolishly viewed me as a threat to their positions of power, various leaders have sinfully abused me in numerous ways. Godly courage to remain subject under such tyrants' God-appointed leadership (
Romans 13:1-7) while at the same time refusing to accept their wicked indictments as truthful comes off as ungodly to others who have subjected themselves to a decortication process, or more colloquially speaking, who have drunk the Kool-aid and who have come to believe the propaganda and falsehoods their leaders dish out. Such individuals have become propagandists themselves, propagandists for their leaders whom they adore with cultic devotion and unquestioning obeisance. Thus, having no eyes nor ears nor stomach for the truth about the leader they accept with cultic adoration, these individuals dare chastise and scold and rebuke anyone who has the courage to point out the leader's spiritual nakedness by saying, "But he has nothing on at all!" Much more intense is their loathing for anyone who makes the Bible's imprecations their own.

Nevertheless, how blessed is the believer whose heart for God begins to beat in rhythm with the heartbeat of God concerning evildoers! How blessed is such a believer, for this one has come to realize that in order to persevere in faith and in the grace of God, one must call upon God to curse evildoers lest one either (1) cry out with curses upon God for his not blighting the deeds of evildoers and ameliorating the dire effects of their wickedness or (2) begin to scheme to topple those evildoers who occupy God-ordained positions of authority and power and sin against God who placed those evildoers in positions of authority (Romans 13:1-7). To engage in either of these two tempting actions would put one on a pathway to eternal destruction, for to do either would be to sin against God.

Thus, in order to persevere in godliness, in such circumstances, if our hearts are in rhythm with God's heartbeat we cry out to the Lord to carry out justice now and to deliver us from the ravages of wickedness heaped upon us by those evildoers who occupy positions of authority over us, as they were appointed by the Lord, whether in government, in educational institutions, in industry, or in the church. It is good and fitting that we should cry out to the Lord to bring down evildoers who wantonly abuse the power of their positions of authority God has given them. It is good and fitting that we should cry out to the Lord to curse them and to blight their schemes and their deeds; it would be profound wickedness for us to presume to curse them and for us to scheme to undo their evil schemes and their wicked deeds as though we were enthroned in the heavens and held the scepter of God's Kingdom in our right hands (cf. 1 Samuel 24, esp. vs. 15).

The godly and believing individual, then, will make godly and believing use of imprecations such as we find in Psalm 109. Let us make good and effective use of this psalm in order that we might faithfully persevere in grace whenever we find ourselves subjected to the abuses of those who are over us according to God's providential placements of us and of others.

Let not any of us who would be godly be willing voyeurs of wickedness in high places. Have courage, friends, to say the obvious that others dare not speak. If those in high places--whether in government or institutions or the church--are naked or are empty suits who abuse their God-given authority, let us not join with the crowd that refuse to speak the obvious lest they be thought unfit for their positions or be regarded as stupid. Resist peer pressure. Refuse to submit to political correctness. Let your heart beat with the heartbeat of God. Speak the truth. Have courage to be the one who declares what is obvious, that the one in authority is empty and abusive. Do so by calling upon the Lord to curse his and your enemies and the enemies of truth and of righteousness. Join me and be an unwilling voyeur who puts to effective and saving use the imprecations of Scripture in order that we might be saved in the Last Day.

Let us not presume to take matters into our own hands to execute justice. Rather, in the presence of and within the hearing of our vaunted enemies, let us cry out with David, when he was harassed and pursued by Saul, "May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand" (1 Samuel 24:15). Heartily enter in to godly use of Psalm 109.

1 O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent,
2 for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
3 With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.
4 In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.
5 They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship.
6 Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him.
8 May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
11 May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
12 May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.
13 May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
15 May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
16 For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.
17 He loved to pronounce a curse— may it come on him; he found no pleasure in blessing— may it be far from him.
18 He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.
19 May it be like a cloak wrapped about him, like a belt tied forever around him.
20 May this be the LORD's payment to my accusers, to those who speak evil of me.
21 But you, O Sovereign LORD, deal well with me for your name's sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.
22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.
23 I fade away like an evening shadow; I am shaken off like a locust.
24 My knees give way from fasting; my body is thin and gaunt.
25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads.
26 Help me, O LORD my God; save me in accordance with your love.
27 Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O LORD, have done it.
28 They may curse, but you will bless; when they attack they will be put to shame, but your servant will rejoice.
29 My accusers will be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak.
30 With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD; in the great throng I will praise him.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him.

2 comments:

Jeremiah said...

Dr. Caneday,

I noticed John Piper preached a sermon yesterday on Psalm 69 and the nature of imprecatory psalms. Because of my internship in Wisconsin, I was not able to be there, but I did read the manuscript today.

On the one hand, Piper heartily affirms the intensity of God's judgment: "We should hear the divinely inspired voice of David, the Lord’s anointed, suffering for the glory of God, and expressing his desire for, and approval of, God’s judgment on the unrepentant adversaries of the Lord."

On the other hand, he seems to differ from you in your interpretation when he says, "The main thing to say is that we do not take the imprecations as encouragements or incentives to curse our enemies. In fact, in Paul’s mind the psalm takes us in the exact opposite direction. Paul quotes the psalm in Romans 15:3 to encourage us to deny ourselves rather than to gratify the lust for revenge. “Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” In other words, forebear, forgive."

What are your thoughts concerning Piper's exegesis? How close are your conclusions? Where, if at all, do you believe he has softened the purpose of imprecatory psalms?

A. B. Caneday said...

Jerry,

Here is the portion of John Piper's sermon to which you refer.

And what about us? When we read these words, what should we think and feel and do?

The main thing to say is that we do not take the imprecations as encouragements or incentives to curse our enemies. In fact, in Paul’s mind the psalm takes us in the exact opposite direction. Paul quotes the psalm in Romans 15:3 to encourage us to deny ourselves rather than to gratify the lust for revenge. “Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” In other words, forebear, forgive.

But this is not because there is no wrath, no punishment, no judgment in Psalm 69. It is precisely because there is judgment. And it is not our business to execute.


As a sympathetic hearer/reader, I give John the benefit of the doubt concerning what he means when he says, The main thing to say is that we do not take the imprecations as encouragements or incentives to curse our enemies. In fact, in Paul’s mind the psalm takes us in the exact opposite direction. I think that what John has in view, here, is the same thing that I speak of in my edited original blog entry when I refer to 1 Samuel 24, when I state, It is good and fitting that we should cry out to the Lord to bring down evildoers who wantonly abuse the power of their positions of authority God has given them. It is good and fitting that we should cry out to the Lord to curse them and to blight their schemes and their deeds; it would be profound wickedness for us to presume to curse them and for us to scheme to undo their evil schemes and their wicked deeds as though we were enthroned in the heavens and held the scepter of God's Kingdom in our right hands (cf. 1 Samuel 24, esp. vs. 15).

The same is true concerning my final statement: Let us not presume to take matters into our own hands to execute justice. Rather, in the presence of and within the hearing of our vaunted enemies, let us cry out with David, when he was harassed and pursued by Saul, "May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand" (1 Samuel 24:15). Heartily enter in to godly use of Psalm 109.

In other words, I believe that John and I are in agreement, if I correctly understand what he means when he says, The main thing to say is that we do not take the imprecations as encouragements or incentives to curse our enemies. I am confident that he means what I mean, namely, that we would be utterly sinful to curse our enemies as we routinely hear others do, when they say, "God damn you!" Instead, we are obliged to give a cup of cold water to our enemies. We are obliged to say to our enemies, as David did, "May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand."

This, however, does not preclude us from crying out to the Lord:

May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap.
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.
Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them.
May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous
(Psalm 69:22-28).

I think that how John poses and answers his applicatory question (How Should Psalm 69 Affect Us?) does introduce some confusion and warrants the question you ask of me.

John puts it this way: So we step back and conclude by asking: How shall we think and feel when we read Psalm 69 today? Three answers:

1) Approval of God’s Judgment

2) Foreshadowing the Ministry of Jesus

3) Incentive to Forgive
.

Unfortunately, John separates application point #3 from #s 1 & 2, as though it were actually separate. Our use of Psalm 69, however, should never be conceived of as separate from what John says in #1 and #2. And I am confident that he agrees with me on this.